In a formal ceremony on Saturday, Yemen's outgoing President, Ali Abdullah Saleh, handed over power to his Vice President, Abed Rabbo Mansour al-Hadi. Hadi received 99 percent of votes in last week's election which was criticized for being merely akin to a one-sided referendum in which voters had only one option -- a "Yes" vote for Hadi. The election officially ended the 33-year rule of Saleh, however many are concerned that he will maintain influence through his family network in leadership roles, and concerns were heightened as he announced his support for Hadi. This fear made Prime Minister Mohammed Basindawa boycott the power transfer ceremony and caused many Yemenis to protest, saying Hadi should not be seen with Saleh. U.S. President Barack Obama commended the transition, acclaiming the "new beginning" for Yemen. He said, "Under Hadi's leadership, Yemen has the potential to serve as a model for how peaceful transitions can occur when people resist violence and unite under a common cause." Hadi officially took office on Monday, and will oversee the drafting of a new constitution and is set to hold interim power until elections are to take place in two years. According to Saleh's aides, the ousted president will leave Yemen in two days to seek exile in Ethiopia. Protesters have called for his prosecution, challenging the Gulf Cooperation Council deal securing his immunity.
Violence and shelling continue in Homs as the Syrian government held a referendum on constitutional reform. The opposition boycotted the poll, accusing President Bashar al-Assad of failing to abide by the current constitution. British Foreign Secretary William Hague said, "no one is fooled" by the referendum while the regime proceeds to "open fire on civilians." The polling was marred by violence with 63 civilians and soldiers killed during Sunday's voting. The European Union has extended sanctions on Syria including on its central bank. Meanwhile, China lashed out after a statement made by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the Chinese and Russian vote blocking a U.N. Security Council resolution on Syria "despicable." China called the comments "unacceptable" and questioned the "sincerity and efficacy of U.S. policy", referring to the intervention in Iraq.
- Amid growing tension with the U.S., Egypt held its first day of a trial against 43 NGO workers, including 16 Americans, on charges of accepting "illicit funds" threatening Egypt's sovereignty.
- Israeli settlers living in the West Bank outpost of Migron are rejecting a deal from the Israeli government to move the settlement set to be evacuated by March 31.
- Iran prepares for next week's parliamentary elections that will be dominated by conservatives.
- The U.S. government has given millions of dollars to the NYPD to conduct controversial surveillance of Muslim neighborhoods and organizations.
Arguments & Analysis
'Beyond the fall of the Syrian regime' (Peter Harling & Sarah Birke, Middle East Report online)
"All told, on a domestic level Syria has entered a struggle to bring its post-colonial era to a close. It is not simply about toppling a "regime" but about uprooting a "system" -- the Arabic word nizam conveniently evoking both notions. The current system is based on keeping Syrians hostage to communal divisions and regional power plays. Indeed, the regime's residual legitimacy derives entirely from playing indigenous communities and foreign powers off each other, at the expense of genuine state building and accountable leadership. Prior attempts at breaking with the legacy of colonialism, in the revolutionary bustle of the mid-twentieth century, failed, grounded as they were in narrow politicized elites and military circles. What is different today is the awakening of a broad popular movement, motivated less by parochial interests and grand ideologies than by a sense of wholesale dispossession of their wealth, dignity and destiny."
Excerpt from an open letter to Kenneth Roth and HRW from the Centre for Secular Space:
In your Introduction to Human Rights Watch's World Report 2012, "Time to Abandon the Autocrats and Embrace Rights," you urge support for the newly elected governments that have brought the Muslim Brotherhood to power in Tunisia and Egypt. In your desire to "constructively engage" with the new governments, you ask states to stop supporting autocrats. But you are not a state; you are the head of an international human rights organization whose role is to report on human rights violations, an honorable and necessary task which your essay largely neglects.
Western governments should reject this inconsistent and unprincipled approach to democracy. Human Rights Watch called on Western governments to come to terms with the rise of Islamic political parties and press them to respect rights. As rights activists, we are acutely aware of the possible tension between the right to choose one's leaders and the rights of potentially disfavored groups such as women, gays and lesbians, and religious minorities. Anyone familiar with the history of Iran or Afghanistan knows the serious risks involved. However, in the two Arab Spring nations that have had free and fair elections so far, a solid majority voted for socially conservative political parties in Egypt, and a solid plurality did so in Tunisia. The sole democratic option is to accept the results of those elections and to press the governments that emerge to respect the rights of all rather than to ostracize these governments from the outset.
'Turkey vs. Iran: The rivalry for dominance of the Middle East' (Yigal Schleifer, The Atlantic)
"Trade between Iran and Turkey, long a buffer against bad relations, also appears to offer little room for cooperation. While trade between Turkey and Iran shot up from $1 billion in 2000 to $16 billion last year, most of that consists of Turkish imports of natural gas and oil. Joint ventures between Turkish and Iranian companies have failed to materialize and several large projects that were given to Turkish concerns ended up being taken away with little warning or explanation. "I don't see Turkey's outreach to Iran working," said an executive at a large Turkish trade organization. "There's no transparency or accountability in Iran. Turkish companies have had a very hard time penetrating the Iranian market.""
--Tom Kutsch & Mary Casey